What exactly makes a good Christmas flick? That is a question which has caused never ending debates at this time of year. On a day fraught with emotions (both good and bad) there is nothing like spending two hours in front of the television watching a story which, to use an all-too-familiar phrase, tugs at the heart strings. Every December the same films resurface in our local retailer. The faces of Bruce Willis, Will Ferrell, Bing Crosby and Macaulay Culkin stare out from the dvd shelves. Of course everyone has their own opinion but I thought I would give my all-time favourite Christmas film.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (IAWL)
Made just after the Second World War in 1946 IAWL was star James Stewart’s first film upon returning from duty as a bomber pilot. Dismissed as mediocre upon its initial release the film became a household classic in the 1970s when the copyright laws protecting the film expired. Despite being well over 60 years old (already almost 40 by the time I was born) the film has not lost any of its power over the decades. The heart of IAWL is undoubtedly just as significant now as it was at the time of its release. For those who do not know, the story revolves around George Bailey (Stewart) a man from a small town who, after sacrificing his dreams due to circumstances, feels a failure and contemplates suicide when the situation seems hopeless. He is then shown an alternative universe, one in which he had never been born.
A good “Christmas” film it certainly is however IAWL is much, much more. Blending fantasy with reality, IAWL sometimes shows the dark, often cruel side of life. Our current state of economic hardship reminds us that we cannot always fulfil our original ambitions and sometimes need to face up to the situation as it is at present. Additionally meeting our dreams may mean selling our soul. This message has been echoed in many films and programmes since IAWL, including Ricky Gervais’s “Extras” and the 2009 Pixar adventure “Up”. It is this which makes IAWL truly “timeless”. Yes the film sometimes has gooey sentimentally (the kind of which is specifically associated with Christmas) however it also has many brilliant moments of drama including:
· George at the dinner table early on with his father
· The Charleston dance-off
· The phone call in which Mary (Donna Reed) and George share the phone
· George praying at the bar for a higher power to “show him the way”
· The moment of realisation in which George runs back to the bridge and breaks down
It is just a shame this film has not been shown on television now for several years, thankfully dvd has enabled this tale to live on well into the 21st century.
A contemporary “fairytale” featuring several interwoven love stories. Like IAWL Love Actually shows the painful sides of life as well as the more joyful occasions. Charming performances from all the members of the cast including Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Andrew Lincoln, Kiera Knightly, Bill Nighy and Rowan Atkinson ensure that this will be a British film remembered for many years to come. The opening voice over by Grant is a particular stand-out.
Honourable Mention to:
Die Hard & Die Hard 2 – Certainly both guilty pleasures around Christmas time (the former in particular), these two action flicks serve as powerful “pop-corn” alternatives to the more extrovertly emotional films above.